BY KENNETH SHOULER
It’s 1 p.m. on a sweltering Friday in June. Despite weather suitable to outdoor activities, it’s cool and refreshing inside of Diamond Jim’s Billiards and Pub, at 400 Market Street in Nanuet. Eight of the room’s ten Brunswick four-and-a-half-by-nine tables are already rented. Many of the players are older, more deliberate in their play, and efficient at manipulating spheres over green baize. Watching them play nine-ball reminds me of Mark Twain’s line: the clicking of pool balls made the most distinct sound in the world. Action is in the air. If it’s a wager you desire, you can make one here. As sure as the rectangular green surfaces are the color of money, the air is filled with the smell of money.
To those not looking to gamble, Diamond Jim’s has much to offer. The stereo system sounds “Betty Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes. There’s a three-sided bar, with four coin-operated Diamond tables on its flanks. Do you enjoy cow pasture pool? The US Open golf tournament plays on television screens around the room. Cues sell in the $200 range at the counter, and a dart board draws patrons of the darts for a Monday league. Moreover, the greens rates at Diamond Jim’s are invincible. Consider: one person can play for $9 an hour and two can play for $12. It gets better. A person can play all day from noon to six p.m. for just $10 total. That price is about a third the cost of going bowling or buying two tickets to the movies.
Jerry Deleo, one of Diamond Jim’s four owners, knows it. “The price is right. Actually our hourly rate is the cheapest one in the tristate area.” Nanuet had six pool rooms in 2002, the latest being New York Billiards next to Dunkin Donuts on Route 59. But only Diamond Jims remains. What are they doing right?
It’s not just the price. The place is authentic. Its success owes to attracting a wide variety of players. The best pool rooms are like aquariums, populated by all sorts of fish. If you want to play serious players, for small bets or large, you can do that. Others hit balls casually, with friends or by themselves. If you bring a date, that works. Men and women play by themselves or with each other.
But even variety wasn’t the owners’ best idea, Deleo says. So what was the secret to this parlor’s success? “Our marketing idea was to go after leagues, the APA 8-ball league, which is the largest amateur league in the country,” he says. “When we opened [in January 2003] we had 19 teams, and now we are sporting 45 to 48 teams.” The leagues play on the four Diamond bar tables and former pro Tony Robles overseas the action.
Deleo was always a player and had a background running bars. “I had a chance to go in as a partner back in 2002,” Deleo claims. “I was originally just supposed to manage. But they needed more money, so they asked me to come in as a partner. Now I’m just a partner; I work two days.” The other partial owners are Matt, a majority partner, and minority partners Ken and Ian.
Prior to this colorful expanse of tables and clicking of pool balls, the room was a Fabric Bonanza, and then it was empty for about five years. “We came in and talked to the landlord and built everything you see except the bar, which they built.” Just prior to opening, an historic break came in their favor: New York, in the 1990s, was the last state in the union to allow alcohol in pool rooms. “I had a lot of experience in the bar business, owning bars and being a bartender.
It is not unusual to arrive earlier and find five or six players outside on a Saturday morning, prior to opening time, with their two-piece cues in their hands. That sight will answer any questions about whether you can find a money game. So what do people play for? Do wagers go up to $1,000? “I can honestly say probably,” Jim answers. “I don’t know for sure, but I think they’ve gone that high. There are some pretty serious games. It’s usually $20, $50, a couple of hundred. It’s usually a player that is boring to watch, since they don’t miss.”
But everything is above board. People pay. “We haven’t had those kinds of problems,” Jerry says. “There’s always a chance some guy will welch. We’ve been here 14 years and it hasn’t happened.”
So the players are honorable. It’s one more reason to like Diamond Jim’s.
By Kenneth A. Shouler. Shouler is an associate professor of philosophy at the County College of Morris in Randolph, New Jersey. Some of his writing can be found at www.kenshouler.com